|“The dreams are getting stronger,” August said, thumping his forehead against the passenger window as Samson Falls zoomed by. The world was gray and listless. Buildings, statues, people…everything appeared and disappeared with hueless flashes, like bloodless blinks, leaving only a few specks of color in between. On the periphery, a Cape dressed in red tried to contain a protest, but even his costume was dingy-gray with disrepute.
From the driver’s seat, Dr. Trance muttered acknowledgement. “Interesting descriptive, August. Why not worse, or more vivid?
Why the word ‘stronger’? ”
You’re the therapist, you tell me.
The outside world siphoned his thoughts away. It wasn’t just gray, but frayed. Muggy. A family—man, woman, and girl–stood beside the street. As the car passed them August turned in his seat, his eyes transfixed on the three stringed balloons above the girl’s head. Three balloons, three colors. The only three colors in the otherwise gray world.
August turned and crouched in his seat, clutching his stomach. Samson Falls, the cleanest, most crime free city in the world was making August sick.
“It’s…I only dream in red, green, and yellow.”
“Primary colors,” Dr. Trance said, correcting him, his voice academic.
“Yeah. Primary colors. But the red is taking over.
“The red is so strong now.”
Suddenly August plastered his face and hands against the glass, a mime in terror. The same family, the same girl, the same balloons.
Once again the car passed them, but this time as the family faded into the rear, August refused to turn away. Red, green, yellow, green, red, yellow, green…the balloons twisted and twisted on their strings. August’s mouth slacked. His eyes watered. The balloons twisted and turned until POP, the red balloon exploded, its red spreading like a virus, tentacled, leaving the world behind stillborn, a tv screen with warped pixels.
Practice your breathing. Practice your breathing. Dr. Trance’s hand on his shoulder, pushing him back into his seat, snapped August back to the present.
“Dr. Trance, these…these are repressed memories, right? You’re absolutely sure?”
“Yes. I am.” Dr. Trance sounded more sure than August could’ve expect. There was security in that.
“August, we’re going to take a little detour.”
The feeling of safety disappeared. “Doc, please, don’t. I told you I can’t be in this place!”
The car turned onto Resurrection Lane, the final site of the Last Crisis, when millions died, where even more were erased. Resurrection Lane, built on the marrow of dead Capes. Resurrection Lane, the place everyone went to never forget, except August, who could never forget because he never remembered in the first place. ‘Where were you during the Last Crisis?’ Everyone knew, except August. For him it was just an abstract: feelings, reactions, but no form.
He began to scratch and dig into his arms. “Doc!”
“Don’t worry, August,” Dr. Trance said, reaching into his pocket and taking out a twenty dollar bill. “I know what’s best for you.”
On the left stood a vagrant with a cup, begging passersby for money. Trance stopped the car just short of him. As the vagrant approached Trance balled the bill and threw it in his face. He stepped on the gas, leaving the vagrant behind on his hands and knees, searching through the smoke of rubber.
August stared at his therapist, and saw a twinge of mad satisfaction he’d never seen before.
“I come here every day. I used to give the bums money to clean the statues,” Dr. Trance pointed to the monuments of dead Capes flanking the street, each discolored from either apathy or spray paint. “But what’s the point, anymore?
“All anyone cares about is getting what they can, while they can, and wasting it however they can.”
Trance’s word felt sharp, a cold clean thing cutting through the haze to some dreadful truth. No, August didn’t want to be there. He felt the statues morph as they passed, their faces cruel, accusatory, their bodies twisting forward.into a collapsing dome. He closed his eyes and practiced breathing.
“What’s wrong with me?”
The therapist stared forward, face frozen with a clinical smile, a father ready to teach a hard lesson to a wayward child.
“Do you know what people hate most? Getting what they want.”
This wasn’t what August wanted. He squirmed, no longer sure of why he was even there. Why had Dr. Trance insisted on this drive in the first place?
“No, no, this isn’t about you,” Trance clarified, reading August without looking. “It’s about them. Everyone else. Society.
“Do you know why the Last Crisis happened? To make everything perfect for them.”
August looked outside at the cold, dirty, dingy world, and wondered if Dr. Trance was insane. There was no perfection there.
A man threw an egg at a Cape statue, then pointed at them as they passed. The little girl did the same, her balloons twisting in the wind. Pop. POP.
“No crime, good jobs, peace, everything people say they want, and what happens? Protests. Unrest.
“When there’s no tangible threat, people create an intangible one. They start to feel trapped. Oppressed. They start to hate their saviors.”
The urge to reach for the door handle encompassed August. To just jump and wallow in the filth.
“You were a Cape once, you know? But you were pushed to the edge. You lost too much. You wife. Your daughter.
The little girl and her balloons. Pop. Pop. POP. Her mouth distended into a silent scream.
“N…no..” Yes? Yes. The gray was cut by red, dye dropping on a surface of hard water. Red, red, spreading everywhere. The primary color. “But I don’t remember anything!”
“I know.” Dr. Trance’s smile warmed, but his eyes narrowed. Blood-shot eyes. “ I treated you once, erased the pain. I saved your sanity.
“Repression therapy. It’s the only way to keep heroes heroes. You lose that much, constantly, you go crazy. You become the villain. You have to forget, and I make it happen.”
August dug his palms into his eyes and bit his lips. He tasted the red. He smelled it.
“But it’s time for you to remember, August. Society is tearing itself apart. We got rid of the villains during the Last Crisis, but we need a new one.
“It’s time you answered the call.”
The gray world decayed like tattered flesh. No black and and white, not even yellow and green, just red, red everywhere.